To start, it is very sad to see that any kind of criticism of the movie ‘American Sniper’ is being met with incredibly aggressive threats from the movie’s supporters. The irony is simple, the more knuckle-headed of those supporters often laud the film’s subject, Chris Kyle, for defending ‘freedom’, however they are threatening people like Seth Rogen and any number of movie critics for daring to exercise their freedom of expression. The obvious irony is that those people so aggressively supporting Clint Eastwood’s movie are acting exactly like the angry, religious fundamentalists depicted as target practice for Eastwood’s hero, Kyle.
The backlash against Rogen, in particular, is scary in its volume and sheer anger, to the point where Rogen has had to apologise for having an opinion. What is this, the 1950s?
With the movie, one of the most important and perhaps more obvious points, watching the movie without reading the book is basically trying to understand maths without knowing what a number is. The book is essential to this, as it was straight from the mind of Kyle, and what a dark place that was. Maybe Kyle started life as some kind of loving, caring, conscientious gentleman, however his book is essentially a list of his favourite confirmed KIAs in a brutal war zone. That’s about it. Unless you have a particularly grim fascination with understanding how people die when shot by a sniper bullet, it is a morbidly boring read.
Eastwood takes that book, and turns it into something completely different. He doesn’t as much embellish the story as take a Soviet era paint-brush and apply suitable, rabble-rousing propaganda liberally. Eastwood takes a stone cold killer, who, if you read the book, clearly enjoys his work, and instead gives us this soft, doughy, caring man who only wants to protect US infantry from the hideous infidel. That’s Eastwood’s biggest lie to the audience. Kyle was not a man put in a tough position, trying to decide whether to put a bullet in the head of a 9 year old or not. Kyle enjoyed killing people.
Normal human beings carry the weight of death heavily. Normal humans who have taken other lives carry that weight for the rest of theirs. Kyle was from that group of human beings that very much enjoyed taking away the lives of others.
Read the book.
Kyle did not agonise over pulling the trigger, even when a child was in his scope-sights. He said, and this is straight from his book;
“I hate the damn savages”
Now, before you go un-following me on Twitter, in an angry, patriotic haze of hate for my even suggesting Kyle said something like that, first remember Kyle actually wrote that. Second, I am by no means telling you anything was wrong with Kyle. He is what he was. A trained killer, who enjoyed his work.
I am however suggesting Eastwood’s rosy, cosy depiction of him, thoughtfully carrying around the weight of those people he killed, is a complete and utter lie. A far more accurate movie would have been Kyle gunning down men, women and children, and listing his kills like an accountant.
Should you doubt this suggestion, I would once again urge, read the book. It is very close to an accountant’s ledger, but instead of numbers he lists people he has killed. It’s that grim and morbid.
Whatever about Kyle himself, Eastwood’s depiction of war in this movie is nothing short of pathetically simplistic. This is surprising as Eastwood did not shirk from his responsibilities as a director in ‘Flags of our fathers’ or ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’. The true horrors of war are there for all to see in both of those excellent movies, the latter in particular a real triumph of modern cinema.
In ‘American Sniper’, Eastwood takes complete leave of reality and shows us a brave American hero gunning down infidels as they threaten full frontal, slow, laboured US infantry assaults. At one point Kyle even jumps off the rooftops and shows the grunts how to conduct door-to-door street fighting. The reality of urban warfare in Iraq is far nastier than Eastwood allowed us to see. I think it is first important for me to note, US soldiers were put in an almost impossible situation, in that point I agree with Eastwood, no doubt that’s something he’s trying to depict. Urban warfare in populated areas is a messy business. What Eastwood refrained from dealing with is the civilian casualties. We’re not talking about those handful of people who did rush US positions with Improvised explosive devices. In war the most tragic casualties are innocent civilians who get caught in it's web.
If you want to feel bad about the human race or if you want to get to know what urban warfare was really like in the cities of Iraq, do yourself a solid and conduct a simple 10-15 minute research on the topic online. Mainstream Western journalists wrote at length about the horrific numbers of civilian men, women and children who were killed by US forces during house-to-house fighting. Tiny children with sniper rounds to the forehead. Civilian ambulance drivers pulled from clearly marked ambulances with same, clean sniper rounds to the head. Women shot in the back. No doubt many of those were on Kyle’s ledger.
Look, if you want to insist on ‘loving’ Chris Kyle, ‘American Sniper’ and the movie Eastwood has created, go for it, that’s your choice. Just know that Kyle was not sitting there carefully picking off painstakingly selected, approved targets. There is no doubt he killed many civilians, innocent people caught in a horrible war zone. Unfortunately, as happens in war, it is a well documented fact that US forces killed many innocent civilians, much as the subject of their hatred, religious fundamentalists, did in New York in 2001.
The point I am labouring to make is, war is nasty, a messy, horrible business where the worst thing in humanity takes place, the loss of human life. In Eastwood’s frankly ridiculous re-enactment, his war is a tidy, cosy affair where only the correct decisions are made, only infidels, or as Kyle put it, ‘savages’ are killed.
Eastwood saves his final insult to both Kyle and the audience to last.
As you may or may not know, Kyle was ironically killed at a gun-range, by a former soldier who is now being tried for murder. The narrative being put forward is basically that Kyle’s ‘friend’ was suffering from PTSD and killed Kyle in a tragic accident. There are whispers that there are deeper secrets behind the incident, and the murder charges would reflect that. In ‘American Sniper’ Eastwood raises a giant middle finger to both his main subject, Kyle, and the audience, by copping out completely and in a cowardly fashion with a final patriotic montage of black limousines and American flags replacing any controversy.
It is insulting to Kyle to brush over his death like this. It is both insulting and patronising to the audience to take that fact and hide it, bury it under a glossy paint job of pseudo patriotism. I would suggest Eastwood was afraid of allowing his audience the chance to form opinions based on that incident, and instead pushed through his own narrative by leaving the final killing completely out. He had no issue showing us the deaths of ‘savage’ women and children, Eastwood drew the line at showing the complicated and indeed controversial death of his All-American hero.
For Eastwood, it was one death too many, and he wasn’t going to allow us to see that.
It is however extremely important to ask, why did Kyle's former friend kill him on that fateful day? I think Eastwood is a coward for leaving out the how and the why. It's easy enough to take a stab at why. Many soldiers are fucked up mentally for life because they are asked to kill people for a living. The weight of that breaks brains. Eastwood leaving that out is just another lie in a two hour piece that Seth Rogen was absolutely correct in comparing to the propaganda short in 'Inglorious Bastards'.
Now, if Quentin Tarantino had been given the reigns of 'American Sniper', now, that would have been interesting, and potentially a hell of a lot more realistic, too.